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NL Central Musings

   by Tom Stryker - 04/14/2006

Surprises. Already. It's not time to do any cartwheels, but some really positive signs have come from early-season results from both the Chicago Cubs and the Milwaukee Brewers. From time to time on this site we will take regular looks at who's hot and who's not in the Majors - especially from Midwest teams that we have the opportunity to see, study and from which we get tons of information. Today, in this first installment on the Bigs, we will look at the good, the bad and the ugly of the season start by the Cubs and the Brewers.
Tomorrow’s installment will deal with the beginning period for the Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians.


There have been three major positives in a 4-2 start (through Tuesday) for Chicago. Playing in a slightly revamped bleacher section and other seating improvements at Wrigley Field, the Cubs recently concluded a series sweep of the Cardinals. That happens about as often as all the stars align.

And, maybe more importantly, the Cubs received some good pitching - starting and relief - from folks other than their stars. That pitching came with Mark Prior and Kerry Wood still sidelined.

Finally, an early season positive can be pasted on many of the new faces dotting the Cubs lineup. Despite a Tuesday beating by Cincinnati, when starter Glendon Rusch got hammered, there is early-season joy in Wrigleyville.

Derek Lee, the newest hero of the Bleacher Bums, just signed a five-year contract extension. And if a happy employee is a product one, this could be another sensational year for the first-baseman. Lee already has three homers in the Cubs first six games.

Catcher Michael Barrett, who has hit three homers with 10 RBI’s already, has been a bright spot. So too has young shortstop Ronnie Cedeno, who has hit four doubles in the first half-dozen games. Cedeno has had a hot start, but even though his batting average isn’t showing it yet, centerfielder Jaun Pierre has shown his speed will be an asset during the long season.

It may all be about attitude. If the 4-2 start was 2-4 or something worse, many felt a lot of things could collapse. But veterans Todd Walker and Neifi Perez are not sniping at playing time decisions, Greg Maddux looks to be in July form and there’s even good news with Prior. Prior hasn’t experienced any shoulder pain since mid-March, is extending his pitching workouts and will be tested longer soon. Ditto for Wood, who is not too far away from throwing in a minor league outing.


Any time St. Louis is not on top in the National League Central, it’s time to celebrate. And Milwaukee’s start has given Beertown a positive outlook on this year’s possibilities. For the first time in 19 years, Milwaukee has started 5-0.

That start got Milwaukee plenty of national attention - something the team rarely receives. Early-season crowds have been good and plenty of smiles can be seen in the Brewers’ clubhouse. Actually, one of the Brewers goals this season is to have more Milwaukee fans in the seats than Chicago fans when they play the Cubs!,

It hasn’t phased the Brewers that they have dropped two in a row since that hot start.

Manager Ned Yost (in his fourth year at Milwaukee) has liked what he has seen from the 2006 Brewers. Milwaukee is playing fundamentally-sound, almost error-free baseball. Another positive for Milwaukee during that 5-0 start is that the Brewers came from behind in all five games. If you believe in team chemistry, five straight comebacks spells proper attitude on a ballclub.

Carlos Lee has been instrumental in the fast start. He reached base 13 of his first 21 times up and hit a ninth-inning single that produced victory No. 5. Lee leads the team with a .348 batting average.

Youngsters like rookie first-baseman Prince Fielder have been producing, too, for Milwaukee. After starting the season 0-for-9, Fielder has gone 5-for-9 since in those first five games.

It is not the hitting, though, that has carried Milwaukee, who is only averaging 3.9 runs per game. It has been pitching and defense. Through their first six games, for instance, the Brew Crew has turned 12 double plays.

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